In an abandoned warehouse, two men meet. No words are spoken. The only exchanges are blows. One of these men is guided by me. The other is merely the enemy, and my task is to take him down. It's going to be a tough fight...
Stay Dead is an unusual and impressive game, looking more like an action movie. You control an unnamed fighter as you battle a set of five enemies. There is no plot to speak of - the options screen refers to these enemies as "demons", but there doesn't seem to be any reflection of this in the game itself. Still, the plot is not that important. What we have here is an almost unique genre of fighting game, and I like it!
Let's start with the graphics. Forget the pixellated warriors of the Street Fighter series or even the 3D-modelled fighters of Mortal Kombat - this is actual, filmed footage. BruceFilm's aim is for two people - one playing, one watching - to get the same level of enjoyment from the same experience, and there's certainly a strong sense of directing the fight choreography of a film more than playing a game. Your actions influence the sequence of events - and, ultimately, whether you win or lose. Each fighter you encounter has their own setting and their own fighting style.
Clear, bright symbols appear on the screen to tell you what keys to press and when (for the iPad, these are the locations to tap). Get it right and you'll block attacks and land blows; get it wrong and you'll take blows instead. You have ten rounds in which to take out your foe, and each round you get to choose whether to go for a simple attack (for one point of damage), a combo attack (for two or three points, but you need to get them all right) or go on the defensive (blocking an enemy attack and scoring bonus points for pulling off the counterattack). If you do very well you can score bonus damage points, which will help towards levelling you up.
Each fighter (and the tutorial) is accompanied by a different music track, all of which are fairly similar. They add an epic feel to the atmosphere and wouldn't be out of place in a similar genre of action movie, but remain in the background rather than commanding attention. I did feel they were perhaps a tad too similar and a bit of variety in style to match the settings would have been good - I wasn't even sure they were different tracks until I looked in the game's directory! Sound effects are very good - the various blows as they land (or not...) are well used. There are no sound effects for the controls, which works well - they would probably spoil the immersion. Curiously, there is no dialogue between the actors; but this may be deliberate. It makes localisation much easier if you have no speech to translate.
The simple controls require timing to get right (sometimes quite tight) and there are a range of methods - most of the time you simply need to tap the right control at the right time, but some complex attacks involve mashing the control repeatedly in a short space of time, and grabs and sweeps involve holding down the control between two points. You need to pay attention! The tutorial, however, goes through all of these steps and allows you to practice them a little before you enter the arena. Stay Dead also adjusts its difficulty as you play - if you do well, fights get harder. Do badly, and the difficulty drops again, making it easier.
At first, this seemed quite a short game. Five fights of ten rounds each and done? Well... not really. If you're already an expert, perhaps you could do this, but it'll take most of us a while longer. For a start, you need to beat all the current opponents in one set before you unlock the next. Screw up the new fight and you'll have to do them all again. More, you have one round less for each subsequent foe - so you get a full ten rounds for the first, then nine for the second, eight for the third... You can, however, take them on in any order.
Stay Dead also boasts fifteen achievements - three for each fighter. Once you've beaten them the first time you'll be able to fight them again from the achievements screen in a bid to complete each set of challenges. Each fighter has three unique achievements to beat, and the difficulty level you beat them on will be shown (so everyone can see if you did so on Easy...). You still have to win the fight to gain the achievement. The third achievement for each fighter is locked until you complete the first two. There's also an ending sequence for each fight that you only get to see if you land enough bonus damage.
I've not really found anything about Stay Dead to criticise. It's very smoothly put together and easy to play (but quite difficult to master). Perhaps the limited gameplay is the biggest thing going against it, but that's not really saying much. I'm such a gentle soul that I release house spiders outside without killing them, and yet I still gained quite a lot of satisfaction from winning my first few fights - it's quite cathartic! There are multiple profiles supported if your family want to play their own game, or if you want to start afresh.
This is a highly unusual and very effective game that deserves to do well, and there's plenty of scope for sequels. A richly deserved gold star for Stay Dead - which I hope will remain very much alive for some time to come!
Keywords: stay dead review, brucefilm sas reviews, brucefilm sas games, stay dead scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.